BUILD THIS BODY
MH Cover Guy, Joshua Capazario’s training tips.
JOSHUA CAPAZORIO IS ONE OF SOUTH AFRICA’S MOST DEDICATED, DIVERSE AND DISCIPLINED COACHES. HE DOESN’T JUST TALK OR TRAIN; HE LIVES BY HIS OWN PROGRAMMES, TOO. HERE’S HOW HE’S GOING TO MAKE YOU STRONGER.
For him, it was a normal session, and this beast was one that would be easily tamed. After all, he was smashing everything in his life. He was young, living with his best friend, single with no debt; and in the best space for training he had been in his life. Joshua didn’t have a worry in the world, and carried himself the same way he did the barbell before him: with crushing confidence.
He snatched the 110kg overhead – and lost the line behind him, his elbow hurtling forward before he could get his hands off the bar. A sudden sharp pain shot through his elbow, killing his set, and the “vibe” of the rest of his session. But that was about all it killed, and he didn’t think too much of it. Ah, to be young…
After seeing his physio, Joshua continued training; he just didn’t snatch. “Being the young bull I was, I was doing everything under the sun, even with all the pain in my elbow. I figured it would just make itself better.”
But after a couple weeks of training with no signs of improvement, he contacted a respected physio so she could do a couple of simple tests. An hour later he was getting X-rays and seeing one of the best upper-limb specialists in the country.
The verdict? A borderline grade 2 tear on Joshua’s elbow MCL that would see his arm braced for eight weeks. And after those two months? If it hadn’t healed properly, an operation; and his chances of ever throwing weights over his head again would be close to zero.
It wasn’t his first injury – he’s torn his hip flexor, hamstring and pec, and even popped an intercostal muscle while deadlifting – but it was the toughest one. “This was a massive blow to me, and to the bulletproof body I thought I had. By not seeking out proper professional help and listening to my body, I had put myself out of the game for eight weeks unnecessarily.”
Joshua Capazorio is now one of SA’s most decorated athletes and top trainers. So how did he go from being relegated to the sideline, potentially out of the game forever, to not only leading the game but coaching it, too? Here are his tips to becoming a beast:
DON’T ADD INSULT TO INJURY
It took Joshua eight weeks of no barbell training and serious physio before he was given the go-ahead to train again. But being the “young bull” he was, he wasn’t about to jump back into light circuit training; he wanted to snatch again. His first two weeks were spent doing drill after drill on only the bar. Ten weeks later, he finally loaded some weight. His goal was to compete at SA Champs a few weeks later, and make his comeback. At the event he played it safe on the snatch, performing technically sound 101kg, 107kg and 112kg lifts. But his first two attempts at the clean and jerk were met with a big fat “F”, as his elbow locked and unlocked due to its instability. He finally landed his third attempt. “The irony was that I tore my elbow snatching; but in my comeback competition, snatching wasn’t my problem – clean and jerks were.” THE LESSON Playing it safe isn’t losing, it’s preparing to win in the future, and making sure you can actually play the game at all. “Once a person is injured, they need to finish their treatment at their therapist, whether it’s chiro, bio or physio; and then start their rehab plan given to them by their therapist. Once the rehab is done, only then can you look at going back into training and starting a new training base, introducing all your favourite lifts and exercises at an easier progression or percentage.”
BE A JOSH OF ALL TRADES
If you thought Joshua was just a weightlifter, you’d be very wrong. He incorporates a diverse range of disciplines into his training. He does powerlifting, weightlifting, wrestling, Jiu Jitsu, kettlebell, bodyweight, strength-specific and conditioning-specific training. He’s a “Josh of all trades”; but that doesn’t mean he’s a master of none. Quite the opposite, actually: Joshua has received some of the most coveted athletic accolades. From 2003 to 2008 he was an SA 100m and 200m champion and medallist, training since he was eight years old. After pulling a hamstring during a sprint and unable to fully recover and resurrect his career, he discovered powerlifting.
From 2008 to 2015 he was an SA powerlifting and weightlifting champion and medallist, rubbing shoulders with the world’s strongest men and placing Top 10 in his division at World Championships. In 2017 he became the second South African to make Strongfirst’s Beast Tamer list, by strict one-arm pressing a 48kg kettlebell, pistol squatting with the 48kg bell, and doing a strict tactical pull-up with the bell. There are only 69 Beast Tamers worldwide.
In 2015, Joshua turned his attention from weight belts to black belts, learning Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and wrestling. “This sport is extremely technical – technical to the point that when I started, having the ability to benchpress 200kg didn’t stop me from getting choked out. This really challenged me; the thought that someone could beat me technically and physically, even though I knew I was a better athlete.”
But that frustration drove Joshua, motivating him to return week after week, humbling himself, even if not by choice. And then, one day, he wasn’t that new kid on the block getting choked out. He’s won two tournaments with six fights and no losses; but he promises it’s still early days, and he’s set some big goals for himself.
JOSHUA CAPAZORIO STOOD STARING AT THE BEAST BEFORE HIM – NOT HIS OWN REFLECTION IN THE MIRROR, BUT THE MASSIVE 110KG BARBELL, WEIGHING HEAVILY ON HIS CALLOUSED HANDS.
THE LESSON You might think you’re the best in your discipline, and maybe you really are at the top – but combining different disciplines will better you. “When combined, these disciplines allow me to consider myself a person who’s ‘harder to kill,’” says Joshua. “I’m stronger, faster, fitter and more mobile than I’ve ever been, all while consistently upskilling myself.” Constantly adjust your goals, and continue learning and challenging yourself.
BE YOUR OWN COACH
Since 2012, Joshua has been his own coach, a decision he made after having so many coaches growing up and becoming a coach himself. “There was a moment I realised I would never find the perfect coach for me. So I told myself I would become the coach that I never had.”
This has been Joshua’s biggest challenge so far, but looking at his training as a continuous journey has helped. He is continuously learning, and tries to be well-versed in several fields, rather than hopping on hypes or fads. It’s that commitment that led him to opening his own gym, Performance Purist (@performancepurist), in Johannesburg, where he is coach to some of the top athletes SA has to offer. THE LESSON You have to be able to hold yourself accountable, no matter what. A trainer wouldn’t let you take it easy or rationalise your reasons. You have to replicate this kind of attitude. Be the coach who doesn’t let you slack off because you’ve had a tough day; and evaluate yourself honestly and objectively, like a trainer would. “Much like anything, if you apply yourself with consistency and honesty, you can make a lot of progress. I wrote my programmes down daily, and gave myself honest feedback on what looked right, what was wrong, what I had learnt and what I was missing.” Take 10 minutes every day to do the same.
STAY TRUE TO FORM
“With most exercises there are definite no-no’s, such as knees collapsing on the squat, lower-back rounding on the deadlift, and your bum and feet shifting on the bench press. That said, if you’re supposed to hit, say, x5 reps on said weight, but start showing any of the signs mentioned previously, you best rack the weight.
“‘Failing professionally’ as Pavel Tsatsouline would say, is the ability to attempt a
lift with as much effort as possible without compromising technique. This advice can save thousands of backs and knees.” THE LESSON Technique is king. “You cannot lift genuinely heavy weights without good form. And when I mean genuinely heavy, I mean world-class strong – not the-guy-using-the50kg-dumbbells-for-reps strong. I mean guys-who-can-squat-3.5-times-their-bodyweight strong. So it doesn’t matter who you are, or what your goal is: technique is king.”
LISTEN TO YOUR BODY, NOT YOUR EXCUSES
If your form is suffering, lift lighter, until you can confidently stand in front of the mirror at gym and admire the form you are performing your reps with. Joshua makes sure he’s in tune with what his body is saying and doing, and he listens to those signs. He sees it with people all the time: when they go for a PB they haven’t trained properly for, they’re far more at risk of getting hurt. “But if you’ve trained hard and hit all your numbers leading up to it, you better bite down, squeeze tight, and get it.” THE LESSON The key is to know the difference between when your body legitimately isn’t ready to push itself, and when your body can be pushed but your mind is getting in the way. “When it’s comp time or PB time, my athletes hear mostly one sentence from me: ‘If you want it, you will get it.’ If you honestly want what’s on the bar more than anything else in this world, and you won’t take no for an answer… then, my friends, you will PB.”
BE A MAN: DEVELOP YOUR GRIP
Some gear and gadgets are more hype than help, and Joshua has his ideas of what should be left at home with your excuses. First up, he takes on gloves. “If I could have one wish, it would be to rid men of training in gym gloves. Men should work hard, and their hands should speak for them.”
Second up: you’re better off unbuckling. The gym belts that are broad at the back and thin in the front have almost zero value to strength training, says Joshua. You’ll be in a far better position if you learn to brace your abdominals harder while you lift.
Last up: lift those lifting straps straight into the bin. “Lifting straps are great for weightlifting, deadlifting and heavy shrugs; but not because you can’t grip a dumbbell for rows or lat pull-downs. Be a man – develop your grip.” THE LESSON Don’t be so quick to buy the latest product to grace gym-bro Instagram profiles everywhere. As for the gear that passes Joshua’s tests? Invest in a pair of neutral shoes such as Converse, Metcons or Nanos, and weightlifting shoes for squatting or Olympic lifting. Wrist wraps for heavy pressing and straps for deadlifts and heavy shrugs won’t leave you hanging. A lever or prong belt for when you’ve mastered bracing your abs and knee sleeves to assist with high volumes of squatting is a great gym buddy. And of course, chalk to assist your grip, now that you’ve ditched your gloves.
ADAPT OR TRY
For Joshua, ultimately it’s about being adaptable and versatile. “Time and experience through all my sporting careers and influences have led me to where I am today, where I combine so many training modalities without losing sight of my goals.”
This means that when he was a fulltime powerlifter, he had to allow himself to be taught Turkish get-ups, when he was extremely immobile. Even though he was naturally fast and had spent most of his life training to be a sprinter, it counted for nothing when he did Olympic weightlifting. When he was a sprinter he weighed between 78 and 82kg, but when his training and goals changed, he spent seven years working hard to bulk his way to 119kg. And now that he’s taken up Jiu Jitsu, he’s had to cut back down to 93kg for competitions.
But that’s just part of mastering eight different disciplines. “Being a complete athlete is knowing my strengths and weaknesses, and making sure the strengths stay strong and the weaknesses become my strengths.”
And you thought trying a new machine at the gym was switching things up.
”MY ATHLETES HEAR MOSTLY ONE SENTENCE FROM ME: ‘IF YOU WANT IT, YOU WILL GET IT.’”